Sunday, 27 December 2015

You may have missed ...

For all sorts of reasons, 2015 was an interesting year.  It was also a year in which I listened to new music and read more than I had for a long time.  As much for my own reflection as anything else, here's some of what I've enjoyed that I suspect is less well known.

Standing Still by Ruby Amanfu is a gem - beautiful soulful singing, great arrangements and a fabulous selection of songs - Dylan's Not Dark Yet done wonderfully is just one.  She's been performing for over ten years, including with Jack White, but I'd missed her until now.   The eponymous Watkins Family Hour combined a country feel with songs from Fleetwood Mac, Disney (trust me), Dylan and others to great effect.  Quality musicians playing quality songs, having a good time, and producing something worth listening to.
Julia Holter's Have You In My Wilderness was an album of the year for some - I wouldn't go that far, but worth listening to, and I'll look out for the next one.  Interesting and unusual instrumentation and songs.  That was an introduction from my local record store (top of the road, what could be better) which also pointed me Israel Nash's Silver Season and Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats.  The former channels ~1972 Neil Young with a more psychedelic feel - something to immerse yourself in.  The latter is just good fun - think soulful rock, electric guitars & brass section, perhaps Stones of Sticky / Exile.

I've loved, as an end of year, Christmas, Winter (well in readiness for Winter) album Four Thousand
Winter by David Winter/ Trinity Choir.  Beautiful, and beautifully recorded, choral singing, with ancient and more-modern Christmas pieces.  Choral music remains for me the best form of chill-out music.

Reading, again avoiding the obvious?  Well, for anyone still to discover Marilynne Robinson,  Lila is as good a way in as anything else.  Housekeeping was great too (and I really ought to have read it years ago).  Books bought years ago and finally read and much enjoyed this year included Gertrude and Claudius (John Updike's prequel to Shakespeare's Hamlet) and Lives Like Loaded Guns by Lyndall Gordon - an amazing piece of biography / detective work that brought Emily Dickinson into focus through her family's story.

Saved up for a while, neither of William Dalrymple's The Last Mughal and Return of a King disappointed - and both make salutary reading re British foreign policy repeatedly failing to learn lessons - painful light shed, not least on our incursion into Afghanistan.  And salutary, too, was Gods of Metal by Eric Schlosser, undermining idolatry of nuclear weapons by questioning whether something that we can't keep safe when not in use can ever keep us safer.  Scary - but close to being an essential read.

Finally, do read Elizabeth Is Missing, really.  Yes, really.

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